Other Questions

Overseas Development Aid Provision

Sandra McLellan

Question:

6. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if, in view of the fact that Ireland has received praise internationally for maintaining its overseas development co-operation programme despite the recession, he will take or encourage any measures to ensure that the EU’s larger member states live up to their commitments and obligations in terms of the quality, and the quantity, of overseas aid during Ireland's Presidency of the EU. [1665/13]

The programme for Government contains a clear commitment to Ireland’s aid programme and to the UN target of providing 0.7% of gross national product for official development assistance, ODA. We have underscored this commitment in our budgetary allocations for ODA and we have emphasised that we are working to achieve the UN target when our economic circumstances allow it.

Last year, the Government provided €639 million for development assistance and an estimated €623 million has been allocated for 2013. After a period of budget reductions, we have essentially stabilised the aid budget, which is a very significant achievement in current economic circumstances. The aid programme is at the heart of our foreign policy and reflects the values of the Irish people. It remains focused on the fight against global poverty and hunger and on the poorest countries and communities in sub-Saharan Africa.

In 2011, the European Union collectively provided over €53 billion in ODA, accounting for over 55% of global assistance to developing countries. The EU and its member states have called on all international donors, including new and emerging partners, to raise their level of ambition and to increase their ODA efforts to a level similar to the EU, thus contributing their fair share to the global development efforts.

EU member states are committed to making development aid more effective and to agreeing a global framework to improve the impact of development assistance on the reduction of global poverty. Ireland has been recognised internationally as a leader in making aid more effective. During our EU Presidency, we will continue to work with our EU partners to emphasise the transformative role of development co-operation and to ensure maximum impact in the delivery of assistance to developing countries. I believe we owe this to our own citizens and to those with whom we work in the developing world, especially at a time of economic challenge internationally.

Many who contribute get really upset and annoyed when they see larger states failing to live up to their responsibilities and commitments to aid and development. Ireland and other EU countries are going through extremely difficult times, with spending cuts in health and education and other areas. In the recent budget Irish Aid’s budget was cut by €16 million. It has been cut five times since 2008 and has fallen by 32%, but Irish development aid has a proven record as the best in the world in terms of value for money, overall quality and effectiveness.

Does the Minister of State agree that Ireland’s prosperity depends on global stability and international co-operation and that investing in Irish Aid is an investment in global stability, fairness and prosperity that will benefit Ireland in the short and long term? What is his response to the handful of politicians and journalists who say that Irish Aid money should be spent nearer home and that aid should be stalled or drastically cut? The Minister of State has probably heard this question raised on some radio stations and television programmes. It is a huge question and needs a response.

The Deputy has asked several questions. I would like to indicate my appreciation for his support, and that of his party, for my Department’s development assistance programme, which has always been unstinting.

The European Union provides €53 billion, or 55% of all global development aid, so it is showing the way. Four member states have reached and exceeded the 0.7% target. Our largest neighbour, the United Kingdom, whose contribution reached 0.56% in 2011, expects to exceed 0.7% either last year or this year. It has made a tremendous commitment and effort to do that. The European Union is not being slow in dealing with this matter. It is anxious to ensure that contributions from other countries will come into the equation. We are particularly anxious to see emerging economies such as China and India get involved. We want to see global development aid and we will certainly pursue that.

Irish Aid has been reduced by slightly over 30% since 2008. This Government has pretty much stopped that reduction and stabilised the situation. Last year the reduction was from €639 million to €623 million, which, in the present circumstances, was quite an achievement.

Irish Aid is an investment, focusing on sub-Saharan Africa, the area where there is the greatest poverty. The OECD has on many occasions indicated that we are at the cutting edge in the quality of the aid we provide and its effectiveness, so there is no doubt about that. It is in all of our interests to ensure there are developing economies in countries that are emerging, and we have an African strategy whereby we show integrated progress from relief to recovery, development, and economic engagement, which is very much to the benefit of the African countries and, in a broad sense, to the benefit of Irish trade and government as well.

I agree with much of what Deputy Crowe said, but we have an obligation to raise questions when things may not be as they seem to be. Concerns were raised recently about the €4 million designated for aid in Uganda that went elsewhere within the country. Given the economic constraints and the limited budget at home, whereby we all want more done with less, is the Minister of State confident that the Department’s and Irish Aid’s procedures are robust enough to ensure the same thing will not happen again?

Are we involved in a process whereby we can audit or assess Irish Aid and the delivery of its projects in other countries? I do not want to single out Uganda. Maybe there should be a spot check every now and again. I agree with Deputy Crowe’s point about how we are perceived internationally, but at home, too, the Government and the Oireachtas must be perceived as holding people to account. When €4 million goes missing, that is no small amount of money, as the Minister of State must appreciate. We must learn something from this experience.

The situation is dire in many countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. There are approximately one billion people who go to bed hungry every day. There are various epidemics, particularly that of HIV-AIDS. Our legacy of hunger since the Famine is part and parcel of who and what we are and because of that we do the best we can possibly do for those who are so much less well off than we are. That is context of Irish Aid. At the same time, we have an obligation to the Irish taxpayer to ensure the money is well spent. The diversion of €4 million in Uganda is a good example of how Ireland deals with such a situation when it occurs. We pursue the matter immediately. The Tánaiste directed straight away that the director of Irish Aid proceed to Uganda, that we examine the situation and demand that the money be restored and that we check out the facilities in place. We discovered that the Auditor General there had been trained by Irish Aid assistants, and it was he who determined what funds had gone missing. The money was restored before Christmas and we have indicated quite clearly that we will be examining all the mechanisms in place to ensure that something of this nature does not happen again. That is being done. This shows that the Irish Aid mechanisms fulfil their intended purpose, and we will ensure this is the case in every country with which we deal.

Overseas Development Aid Provision

Seán Fleming

Question:

7. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans for the establishment of a civilian corps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1576/13]

Ireland has a strong international reputation for the quality and effectiveness of our aid programme, which is sharply focused on the fight against poverty and hunger, especially in the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa. The programme is built on the contributions of generations of Irish people who have worked in the developing world, including volunteers, professionals and missionaries. At present, the aid programme, which is managed by Irish Aid in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is funding the work of some 1,300 development workers, volunteers and missionaries in developing countries. In addition, the rapid response corps established by Irish Aid provides an opportunity for those with specific skills to be deployed swiftly in response to humanitarian crises and disasters.

The programme for Government includes a commitment to establish a civilian volunteer corps. In line with this commitment and following the completion of the review of the 2006 White Paper on Irish Aid, we are planning to implement a new initiative on international volunteering in developing countries. This will strengthen support for volunteering and promote civilian participation in high quality volunteer programmes that contribute to the achievement of clear sustainable development goals. The volunteering initiative will reflect development needs in developing countries and increase volunteering opportunities for people, including jobseekers and, in particular, retired public servants who have skills and experience that are in short supply in the developing world.

Irish Aid has begun discussions on the elements of the volunteering initiative with key development non-governmental organisations and UN agencies. I expect to present the details of the initiative in the coming months. In addition, in the context of our current EU Presidency, we are now working closely with the Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament to bring forward proposed legislation for the establishment of a new EU aid volunteers initiative.

My understanding is that the Peace Corps formula was devised by President Kennedy and Sargent Shriver in the United States in the early 1960s. It is the most notable example of a voluntary civilian corps of which I am aware. Am I correct in thinking that the US Peace Corps operates on the basis of giving placements to students in particular, the equivalent of our second-level students, rather than to those who have finished third level or college education, giving them placements to work on local projects in countries where the United States wishes to give out certain messages or assist particular programmes? Does the Minister of State hope to develop a programme on the basis of the US model? Will the people he hopes to place on the programme get specific training beyond their general knowledge or competence? He mentioned retired public servants, giving the example of their particular competence, as well as those retired from the private sector. Is his thinking more inclined to make placements available for retired personnel rather than for people who may be midway through or approaching the conclusion of their formal education?

What we have in mind is to build on what is already in existence, such as Voluntary Service Overseas and Comhlámh, which are involved in volunteering initiatives to which anybody can apply and put forward their names, whether they are students, working people or otherwise. Non-governmental organisations also very often look for volunteers. In the context of the commitment in the programme for Government for a civilian corps, we are looking at how we might best harness retired civil servants in particular, as well as others from the private sector. This is in consideration of the approximate 30,000 people who have retired in the past two years, with a further 10,000 civil servants to follow under the terms of the troika programme. These include retired people who have considerable managerial and professional skills. We believe they offer a potential with which we should engage. We are talking about trainers of teachers and people in the health services. This is a new potential volunteering cohort that has not been available to come on scene before and we are very anxious to use it to the best possible ability.

That is the thrust of the new initiative but we are also looking for other people to become involved, for example, the diaspora population present in this country. There is no reason such persons should not return to their own countries given the experience they have had here, bringing it to bear on development in their countries.

Will the Minister of State refer to the timeframe he has in mind for launching his initial programme? When does he hope to have the corps in operation? Apart from health and education are there other areas in which he hopes to have a cohort of people to focus on and work with local communities in impoverished countries?

I am looking at this with a whole-Government approach. There are just as many potential volunteers in the Garda and the Defence Forces, in Revenue and right across the board, in particular in the area of agriculture which is very relevant to impoverished countries where there is a high degree of agricultural involvement. I would like to see this programme operating right across the board, not just in health and teaching. When will it happen? We have already done most of the work and it will be part and parcel of the new policy we will launch in the not too distant future. Further details will be released in the coming months.

Overseas Development Aid Oversight

Timmy Dooley

Question:

8. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his plans to review the overseas development aid paper; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1574/13]

The 2006 White Paper on Irish Aid set out clearly the basis and priorities for Ireland’s official aid programme which is working on behalf of the Irish people to improve the lives of the world’s poorest people. The programme has been recognised internationally for its focus on poverty and hunger, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, and also for its leadership in making aid more effective. The review of the White Paper on Irish Aid is one of the commitments contained in the programme for Government. We wanted to carry out such a review to examine the progress being made by our aid programme, to assess the changed context, globally and here at home, and to set out our future priorities as the international community considers the framework for international development after 2015, the target date for the millennium development goals.

A very vibrant public consultation was undertaken for the review between February and April of last year, which was overseen by the independent Irish Aid expert advisory group. We met more than 1,000 people across Ireland and in our partner countries, and received a large number of written submissions. We also undertook consultation across Departments and in various committees in the Houses of the Oireachtas. Since then, we have embarked on a process of considering carefully the contributions made during the consultation period as well as the available evidence on what works best. Based on this we have finalised a new policy on Ireland’s role in global development. This policy will be submitted for Government approval in the near future.

In regard to the review, has the Minister of State taken into account the programmes operated by other countries? I do not know which in particular - one hopes our country is seen as one that has best practice in regard to development programmes but I presume other countries run very efficient and effective programmes too. Has any of these programmes, or strands thereof, been taken into account in the Minister of State's review? I welcome that there was widespread consultation within this country as well as elsewhere.

When the Minister of State replied to Deputy Crowe on the reduction in the level of overseas development aid since 2008, he spoke about a 30% reduction. Was that reduction in the quantum of money, or does it take into account the downturn in the economy, the smaller GNP and the fact that we assess the millennium goals and the overall targets we hope to achieve on the basis of the percentage of GNP?

On the last point, the 30% reduction is in accordance with the official target sought and is described officially as gross national income, which is, effectively, gross national product. In terms of other countries, we are very au fait with what is going on and take much of that into consideration. There are, of course, some differences between us and many other countries, one such relating to tied aid. Many other countries practise tied aid whereas ours is untied. In other words we do not make our aid provision dependent on any contingent consideration. It is separate from any other condition.

We were anxious to discover what was happening elsewhere in the world - we did so - but we were especially anxious to discover what the people who were providing the funds for Irish Aid thought and what were their views on how we should proceed. That is why we held meetings in Cork, Galway, Sligo, Dublin and elsewhere. We invited members of the public to attend these meetings in order that we might obtain the best of their views. They made a large number of proposals and suggestions which, in so far as is possible, have been incorporated into our final proposals.

Does the Minister of State accept that most people would agree with aid being provided in times of crisis? I do not believe people have a hugely negative view of development. However, their perceptions become muddied when aid is being provided for large countries with massive resources and corrupt governments. If we are seen to be involved in such countries, difficulties often arise. This is because of the extreme circumstances which obtain in many of the countries to which I refer. People want us to learn from the mistakes we made in the past, but they become concerned when they consider where Irish aid goes. That is why clear evidence must be provided of where the money goes and how it is spent. People refer to Uganda in the negative, but it must be seen in a positive light, particularly when one considers the changes which have occurred there in the past decade. These changes are the result of work done by a number of countries and Ireland is in there with the best of them in that regard. Rather than always being negative, people should congratulate Irish Aid on the work it is doing in Uganda.

My point is similar to that made by Deputy Seán Crowe. Mr. Brendan Rogers and his colleagues from the Tánaiste's Department recently made a presentation to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade in which they highlighted the progress made in the areas of health and education in Uganda. I refer, in particular, to the increase in the number of people who are completing their education at primary level and to the development of health facilities. This positive message must be communicated to the public at large, especially those who find themselves under continual pressure in their household budgets and became concerned when difficulties arose in respect of the misappropriation of funds for Uganda. Has the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform sanctioned the appointment of a professionally qualified chief financial officer? It is important that we send another message to the public, namely, that the assessment of risk is to the fore. The positive message regarding the great success of our overseas development programme must be got across to people, particularly during these challenging economic times.

The appointment of a chief financial officer is under discussion with the Department. There is not yet a final outcome in this matter, but there should be one soon.

On communicating the good news relating to overseas development assistance, we have established a new website - it went live just after Christmas - which makes it possible to obtain current information on everything taking place. In the context of how aid provided by Ireland is spent, there is no doubt, as Deputy Seán Crowe stated, that this a good news story, particularly in the context of the way in which the matter was dealt with. Our actions highlight the fact that we will not tolerate any form of corruption and that there are mechanisms in place to deal with corruption. What occurred also showed that where further improvements were required, they would be made. Unlike most other countries, Ireland provides a greater proportion of its funding for non-governmental organisations, NGOs. Our embassies are responsible for monitoring and overseeing what happens to much of the funding disbursed. As a result, there is a level of direct contact regarding the funding provided by the Department and the way in which it is distributed. We engage with foreign governments only in respect of projects which can be carried out in the context of broad policy issues - for example, in health - and where we are satisfied that what a particular government is doing is proving to be beneficial. The projects to which I refer are assessed on that basis.

Foreign Conflicts

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

9. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps he and his EU counterparts have taken to address escalating ethnic tensions in Mali; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1585/13]

The Government and the European Union share the widespread international concern about the situation in Mali. The UN Security Council has adopted three resolutions on the situation since July 2012. During the past week there has been a serious escalation in the conflict as militants based in the north pushed southwards towards Mali’s capital, Bamako. On 10 January the UN Security Council stated the deterioration in the situation threatened the stability and integrity of Mali "and constitutes a direct threat to international peace and security". The Malian army, with support from France, has launched a counter-offensive to repel the advance.

Following a meeting of the UN Security Council on 14 January, the Secretary General welcomed the response by bilateral partners to the call for assistance by the Government of Mali. EU Ministers will review the situation at an extraordinary meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels tomorrow. The situation in Mali is very complex and volatile. I welcome the decision taken to accelerate the deployment of African regional forces to assist the Malian authorities. This effort is being led by the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS. The European Union will support the African-led mission. Urgent planning is under way for the establishment of an EU training mission which will be considered at tomorrow’s meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council.

The Government fully understands the action taken by France and others in support of the Malian authorities. There is strong agreement that military action alone will not secure lasting peace and stability. EU Foreign Ministers have consistently pressed the Malian parties to adopt and implement a roadmap for a transition to democratic elections. When this is in place, the European Union will be in a position to resume bilateral development co-operation and economic engagement with Mali. It is also essential to have an inclusive process of reconciliation and peace building in Mali that respects the territorial integrity of the country and addresses ethnic divisions.

We are seriously concerned about the impact of this crisis on the civilian population. During the past year Ireland has provided over €9 million in emergency assistance for the Sahel region, including €1.35 million for Mali and Malian refugees in neighbouring countries.

It is welcome that this matter will again be discussed at tomorrow's meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council. Last week I was contacted by a constituent who indicated a particular personal knowledge of the region and outlined their disappointment at the fact that the difficulties in Mali did not appear to have been given the international attention they merited. The person to whom I refer spoke to me in the context of media commentary on the issues involved. I am not sufficiently competent to state whether my constituent's comments in this regard are appropriate. Peaceful elections have taken place in Mali for the past two decades and the area in question was perceived as one in which democracy had been working well. The difficulties to which I refer, which began to emerge last March, are extremely disappointing. Is Ireland continuing to provide aid for the affected area of Mali? May I assume, on foot of the Tánaiste's comments, that the European Union has ceased to provide assistance or is my interpretation of what he said in this regard incorrect?

As stated, the situation in Mali will be discussed at the special meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council tomorrow.

Unfortunately, as I am attending the meeting in Belfast I will not be able to be in Brussels but the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, will represent me at tomorrow's meeting of foreign ministers. There will be a full discussion on the action that has been taken. We will have an opportunity to hear from our French colleagues about what they have been doing in co-operation with others. There will be a discussion about putting together a European Union training mission. As far as aid is concerned, we have been contributing to the situation in Mali and we remain committed to doing so. Over the past year we have provided €9 million in emergency assistance to the region and €1.35 million specifically for Mali.

I remind Deputy Smith that other Deputies are waiting to contribute. I ask him to co-operate and to be brief.

I thank the Tánaiste for his reply. Are the difficulties in Mali the reason for the extraordinary meeting of the Foreign Affairs Ministers tomorrow? Is it the main topic for consideration or are other issues to be considered?

I ask the Tánaiste to instruct the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, to highlight the history of interventions in this area which are liable to be problematic and disastrous in the long term. President Hollande has said this intervention will last for a matter of weeks only. It only takes a few hours to decide to go in but it will take a lot longer to get out of it. This will become a very complex affair. It smacks of French colonialism. France is very dependent on uranium from the area as its nuclear energy is built on the back of cheap uranium supplies from Niger and northern Mali. The French obviously have other interests aside from the problems with the tribes. I suggest that the Africans should be encouraged to deal with their problems but the French should be told to keep their noses well out of the place because I do not think they will help matters.

The Tánaiste says he understands the action by the French authorities. Will he accept the point that part of that motivation is clearly governed by economic interests and the very substantial importance of uranium for the French, given the importance of nuclear energy for France? Will he also consider that the instability in that region is linked to the overthrow of Gadaffi and the intervention in Libya whereby displaced tribes have gone back to that region and are demanding separatist rights for their states in that area? The lesson of the story is that interventions by other authorities into countries like this can have a substantially destabilising effect which brings with it significant civilian casualties. This is beginning with up to ten or 12 civilians killed since the French intervention but tens of thousands of people have already been displaced. What action will be taken in this regard?

As a previous speaker said, lines were drawn on maps that did not really take into account the people in those regions. The Tuareg are moving into that region. One of the worrying comments is the suggestion that the French intervention was carried out under UN guidelines. Will the UN support this intervention? I have listened carefully to the Tánaiste's response that intervention by other African nations is welcome. However, the French intervention could be seen as a colonial action.

Many of these al-Qaeda-related organisations want to engage the West; they want to engage in conflict with the Crusaders. This is the language they are using. The Malian Government came to power as a result of a coup. I do not know enough about the region but I am concerned about the possibility that other countries and people could be dragged into this conflict.

The situation in Mali is very serious. I agree it is the case that there is a spillover from one country to another. The French intervention and the intervention of the African Union and ECOWAS is all being done to support the Malian authorities. There is a very serious danger of terrorism in that area. Recent meetings of the European Union Foreign Affairs Council have adopted conclusions reaffirming the EU commitment to continue to play a constructive role in the support of stabilisation efforts. The European Union is working through political pressure, development and economic assistance and in support for regional military intervention and a common security and defence policy mission focused on training of the Malian armed forces, EUTM Mali. The meeting tomorrow is specifically called on the situation in Mali. A draft Council decision is expected to be discussed at tomorrow's meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council. This will establish a European Union training mission. The French authorities have already identified an officer to be the mission commander. A deployment of 240 individuals to the mission is envisaged. This does not include force protection personnel. The main function will be the training of units of the Malian armed forces.

The question of a possible Irish contribution of trainers to an EU mission in Mali is under consideration by the Minister for Defence. A decision has not yet been taken. A major consideration for Ireland will be the question of force protection. I emphasise that the Defence Forces are already making a major contribution to international peacekeeping and security through their involvement in Lebanon and smaller contributions to a range of operations including the training mission which is focused on Somalia and is based in Uganda. I visited that mission in July when I was in Uganda.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.